Our Kidsave child Rita left on Tuesday morning. Saying goodbye at the airport was tough. She was doing OK, but some of the other girls were hysterical; none of them wanted to leave. I’m still not quite ready to make any announcements about whether or not she’s found a family, mainly because Kidsave requires a two-week wait after the kids return to Colombia before anyone can submit adoption paperwork (and all the kids are required to return, regardless of whether or not they’ve found families) so it’s not clear if any final decisions have been made yet. I’ll update about it in a couple weeks when there’s more certainty.
Anyway, I’m still in the mode of re-adjusting to life without her. In some ways it’s physically easier since I’m not running around sightseeing all the time, but in other ways it’s harder not to have an extra pair of hands around. And, of course, we just miss her company. She is a wonderful, wonderful child. Please pray that she finds a home.
I don’t think I ever told the story of the day we picked Rita up from the airport: We were rushed getting ready to go to the airport but managed to get everyone out the door in time. When we parked at the airport and I took a moment to fix my hair, straighten the collar on my four-year-old son’s shirt, fluff the stuffed animal we bought Rita — after all, you never get a second chance to make a first impression! I went to take my son out of the car and saw that he had no shoes. NO. SHOES. We somehow forgot that little step in all the chaos of getting ready.
Mortified as I walked through the airport with my shoeless son, I arrived at the meeting place and saw the coordinator had bought these beautiful silver American flag balloons for each of the kids. She handed us the one for Rita. Since it had a weight on the bottom of it I thought it would be fine to let my son hold it while I got some other stuff ready. I heard someone shout “Oh no, catch it! CATCH IT!” and turned to see the balloon floating to the top of the 30-foot airport ceiling. My son had yanked on the string too hard and it came detached from the inflated part.
When the Kidsave children arrived and all of them started gushing over the beautiful silver balloons, I couldn’t figure out how to explain what had happened in Spanish. So I pulled Rita aside and pointed to her balloon on the ceiling, then down to my shoeless son who was holding a limp balloon string. The look on her face indicated that she understood the message of “We are crazy people who cannot even be trusted to take care of a balloon” loud and clear.
You guys. GUYS! Look what I found at the airport gift shop:
I’m going to get a stock of these for people who visit my house. As they hastily pack up their bags I’ll hand one to them and say, “Hey, I’m really sorry about that whole ‘scorpion getting wrapped up in your pajamas while you slept and repeatedly stinging you as you jumped out of bed in a blind terror in the middle of the night’ thing. But hey, check this out. A scorpion pop! HAH! Isn’t that just a hoot?!” Now if they only had one for centipedes…
I had this really weird experience at Mass last month where the first reading hit me like a ton of bricks, but I have no idea why. It was on July 5th, when the reading was from Ezekiel 2:2-5:
As the Lord spoke to me, the spirit entered into me
and set me on my feet,
and I heard the one who was speaking say to me:
Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites,
rebels who have rebelled against me;
they and their ancestors have revolted against me to this very day.
Hard of face and obstinate of heart
are they to whom I am sending you.
But you shall say to them: Thus says the Lord God!
And whether they heed or resist — for they are a rebellious house –
they shall know that a prophet has been among them.
Those last two lines especially give me chills every time I read them…yet I have no idea why. Usually when I feel moved by something from Scripture I know where God is going with it or what he’s trying to tell me, but this time I don’t know why this passage has had such an impact on me. Anyone else ever had that happen?
We have a new toddler discipline system at my house. None of our usual discipline techniques seemed to be working with my son, while his limit-pushing behavior was getting increasingly worse. So a couple weeks ago I wrote up an impromptu board listing out all actions he was supposed to avoid, and drew five green squares at the top. Whenever he continued misbehaving after a couple of warnings I’d erase a square, usually reviewing the various infractions that led to the erasing by pointing to the various icons Vanna White style. If he didn’t have any squares left at the end of the day, he couldn’t go outside to play (or, if it was raining, couldn’t have some other end-of-day treat).
I only planned to do it for a day or two to help me manage his behavior while I was so tired from all the running around with Kidsave stuff, but it’s worked so well that we’ve kept it up.
Those are some pretty impressive icons, huh?
Tomorrow I’m going on a Christ Renews His Parish retreat at our diocese’s retreat center. I’m so excited! Not only have I heard rave reviews of CHRP, but this will be my first-ever retreat. I have no idea what to expect. I signed up for it rather spontaneously after a Sunday in July when the Gospel reading was all like “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while” and I was all like “YES LORD I HEAR YOU!!!!” They announced the CHRP retreat that day after Mass and I signed up without even checking my calendar.
Please pray that it’s a time of spiritual renewal for me. Anyone else have any prayer requests for this weekend?
I look forward to reading your posts!
The other day I was at Sonic, ordering a chicken sandwich for Rita, when I spotted an ad for the crispy deep-fried deliciousness that is their onion rings. (“Onion rings?” you ask. “But isn’t that junk food, which you gave up as part of your Saint Diet?” You see, dear reader, the little bit of cheating I did when I was so busy when Rita first got here reignited that carb addiction thing which led to me to have this brilliant idea that “if I’m going to fall off the wagon anyway I might as well make it a spectacular backward three-point-turn swan dive off the wagon!” I know. Anyway…)
So I saw the picture of the onion rings, and it triggered a reaction in my newly re-addicted brain that is probably most commonly found in rabid dogs or starving hyenas. Not ordering them was out of the question; in fact, I was doing good not to jump out of the car and rip that little speaker off the booth and scream into it “NOW! NOW! NOW! GIVE ME ONION RINGS NOW!”
I managed to feign sanity long enough to order, and, luckily for all involved, they promptly brought us our bag full of food. I fought onion-ring-induced shakes all the way home as I looked forward to this little treat — just the treat I needed (nay, deserved) after a tough day! As soon as we got home I opened the bag…there were Rita’s french fries…her sandwich…more french fries…
No onion rings. They gave me fries instead.
I was crushed. Crestfallen. Livid. Incensed. My mom called around that time and the first thing I did was lament my plight, walking her through the ordering process, emphasizing how very clearly I spoke the words “onion” and “rings.” My babysitter got multiple re-enactments of the saga, the Sonic employees becoming increasingly sinister with each retelling. After sulking around the kitchen and frowning at the zillions of free, nutritious things we had to eat in the house, I finally managed to move on, working in one final “But I WANTED onion rings” jab as I munched on leftover meatloaf.
Later that afternoon I was squeezing in a little prayer while the kids rested, and the thought popped into mind: Why didn’t I turn to God in that situation?
It’s especially odd because I always turn to God when big issues arise. When I’ve faced potentially life-changing problems like financial difficulties and health scares and surprise pregnancies I’ve turned to God, frequently praying about his will for the situation, remembering always that he can bring good out of any situation, clinging to my faith even when it seems like God is silent. Why on earth, I wondered, would I turn to God during big life crises but not in fast food mix-ups? Why is it second nature to cling to him during times of great trouble but not in the little annoyances of daily life?
I’ve been pondering that a lot over the past few days, and I think it comes down to this sad truth: I don’t turn to God in the little things because I don’t have to.
In the case of the missing onion rings, the pain wasn’t bad enough to force me to turn to God. I had other options. I could find some measure of relief through things like gossip, detraction and self pity, sinful actions that that made me feel better in this insignificant situation but that wouldn’t work to sooth me with a bigger problem. Also, I simply had other options to improve the situation without God’s help. My problems here were within my control — if I’d cared enough I could have gone back to Sonic and I’m sure they would have happily given me the onion rings. I didn’t need God to fix it because I had this one covered myself.
I’ve known for a long time that one of the things that distinguishes truly saintly people from the rest of us is that they turn to God with even the smallest daily matters, that they don’t compartmentalize life into “times to turn to God” and “times not to turn to God.” And now I see why. It comes not only from a deeper understanding of the truth that God is with us at every moment, but from a deeper faith and love. The shift that takes place when you begin to turn to God and prayerfully trust that he will bring good out of paper cuts and stubbed toes and lost onion rings is the shift of beginning to turn to God not just because you have to, but because you want to.
The ride home from the airport after we picked up our Kidsave child Rita was a little tense. We quickly found out that when they said in her bio that she speaks some English, by “some” they meant “not a single word.” A Colombian social worker named Maria was with us as well, and she didn’t speak much English either.
“Is hot too where you live?” I asked in broken Spanish.
They barely managed to nod and smile. They had arrived a day late after getting stuck in Atlanta overnight, and were too exhausted to strain for conversation topics. Rita was so tense and stressed by her strange new surroundings that she’d developed a bad headache. In the forty-minute drive back to our house we made some other efforts at chitchat, but it was hard work. Our group consisted of a suburban American family from Texas, a young career woman from the bustling city of Bogota, an orphaned child from rural Colombia, and we were all tired. It was pretty quiet for most of the ride home, the main sound being the air conditioner straining to beat the sweltering heat.
Then Maria started to say something, hesitating to make sure she chose the right words. “I hate to trouble you,” she said apologetically, “but it’s very important that Rita and I go to Mass on Sunday.”
When I told her that we are Catholic too, everything changed.
In one moment we went from having nothing in common to having everything in common. We’d all read the same Bible passages at Mass the weekend before, so we talked about that for a while. Then the subject of the rosary came up, and we shared tips about how to make praying the rosary a daily habit (something we all wanted to do but hadn’t managed to accomplish yet). That led into a long discussion in which we gushed about Pope Benedict, which then got us talking about Pope John Paul II. While we were talking about our parish priests someone brought up the subject of Confession, and Rita mentioned that she was sure to go to Confession before she came on this trip. When the subject of Mary came up we were talking over one another, Maria and I both getting choked up while recounting stories of how God has used his mother to draw us closer to himself. Maria shared touching stories about how it helps her work with orphaned children to let them know that they not only have a heavenly Father, but that God gave them Mary to be their spiritual mother as well.
Over the next couple of days things were predictably awkward as we all got settled into the new routine, but our Catholic faith served as the anchor that held us all together. They immediately gushed over our painted tile of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and Maria noted that a friend of hers had the same Christ the Teacher icon that hangs on our wall (mine written by my long-lost cousin the monk). A little segment about St. John Vianney came on the EWTN-Spanish channel, and Rita was uncharacteristically talkative as she told us all about how his life has inspired her, impressing me by knowing off the top of her head that his feast day is August 4. I had given Rita a disposable camera, and later we’d see that the first picture she took was of our framed print of this beautiful photo of Pope John Paul II which hangs in the hall outside her bedroom door.
When we went to Mass, the unity we felt was palpable.
As we walked into the sanctuary (pictured above), we all dipped our hands in the holy water and crossed ourselves without even thinking about it. We slid into the pews and Rita smiled as she pointed out a nun sitting in front of us. Maria pulled Rita close and pointed to the red candle over the tabernacle at the front of the sanctuary, whispering that Christ is here too.
The service started, and I saw Rita’s body relax as she fell into the familiar rhythm of the Mass. Though she wasn’t able to understand a word of our pastor’s homily, she could read God’s Word along with us in the Spanish-language Bible translations provided in the missalette; and the central reason we were there, the Eucharist, surpassed any language or cultural barriers. We moved as one — Rita, Maria, our family, and everyone else in the building — as we crossed ourselves at the beginning of Mass, traced the sign of the cross across our foreheads, lips and hearts before hearing the Gospel, knelt as God was made present, stood to say the Our Father, then knelt again before receiving Communion, our external conformity of movement symbolic of the inner conformity of belief. Though I’d known all along that technically Rita and Maria are our sisters in Christ, watching how seamlessly they fit into the congregation at the Mass made me see what a true filial bond we really have.
After the Mass Rita and Maria took a stroll around the sanctuary, familiarizing themselves with the church. I sat in a pew for a moment and watched them move from place to place, chatting about the Stations of the Cross and our statues of beloved saints Faustina and Martin de Porres, stopping for a moment to pray in front of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Rita began to move around the church as if it were her own living room, smiling freely, all the tension gone from her body.
I’ve read stacks and stacks of books with high-minded treatises on Catholicism and the Church as the mystical Body of Christ, but it wasn’t until that moment that I really got just what a gift Jesus gave us when he established a Church. I got it because, seeing Rita at Mass that day, I saw what a gift it was for her.
She’d arrived here an orphan without a home, tired and weary from a tumultuous journey and a more tumultuous life, blown to and fro by every kind of human inconsistency, finding herself living in a foreign land in a new house, surrounded by strangers. And yet through the Church we were united immediately as a family, not only in the core beliefs about God and life but even in our surface-level expressions of faith like blessing ourselves with holy water or praying the rosary or lighting candles to symbolize prayers. As I sat there in the pew that day and watched Rita walk through our sanctuary, seeing her rest in the soothing familiarity of her surroundings, my heart swelled as I realized that through his Church God had given her not just a family, but a home.
When we found out that all our paperwork was approved and we’d be hosting a Kidsave child this summer, one of the first things I thought was that I was going to have to work on patience. I had always thought of myself as a fairly patient mom, especially considering my circumstances with four kids under five, yet when I thought of how my daily behavior might seem to a child who didn’t know me well — who may have even experienced abuse* — I realized that things were going to have to change.
At least a couple times a week the chaos of our house causes me to lose my cool, acting in a “red zone” frame of mine where my actions are driven by boiling emotions of anger or fear or frustration rather than being driven by reason and love. I end up doing things like yelling at the kids or using a sharp tone of voice with anyone unlucky enough to be in my path, sometimes also being extra forceful with my body language by slamming drawers shut or making a bunch of racket while putting dishes in the sink.
I’ve always excused this behavior.
Until recently I told myself that my actions aren’t all that bad, and that, besides, this is really the best I can do given all the chaos around here. I saw losing one’s temper on a semi-daily basis as part and parcel of having a bunch of little kids, and figured that I couldn’t expect to do any better than I’m already doing — there’s only so much one person can take, after all!
But when I thought about the prospect of a child living with us who might have experienced physical abuse, the calculation changed. I’ve only had limited experience with people who have tendencies toward violence, but I know enough to know that seeing them get into that “red zone” strikes terror into your heart because you never know when they’re going to start swinging. Obviously my friends and family know that I would never do anything like that, but the Kidsave child would have no such assurance since I would be a total stranger to her.
Realizing just how frightening it could be for a new child in our house to see me slide into that “red zone” state of mind (especially an orphan, with no one to protect her other than the state) I resolved to keep my cool no matter what. Even on those days when all my children seem to be doing some kind of tag-team whine/scream/throw temper tantrum game and I can’t even get one second of silence and I find marker on the wall and it takes an hour to complete the simplest task like changing a load of laundry, I would at least pretend to be in a calm state of mind. My blood might be boiling on the inside, but I would not let it show on the outside.
Sure enough, I don’t think Rita had been here 48 hours before I got my first opportunity to put this commitment into practice. The first few days she was here my three toddlers pushed limits in a big way and the baby was uncharacteristically fussy, more than once leaving me feeling so frustrated that I felt like my head was going to explode.
But a funny thing happened when I was forced to act like a patient person: I actually started to become a little more patient.
Not having the smoke-and-mirrors option of continuing to raise my voice and have a hissy fit until I got my children’s attention, I was forced to follow through more and threaten less. I realized that that tendency toward yelling been borne of laziness as much as anything: it’s easier to make a bunch of noise than it is to, say, drop what you’re doing to take a recalcitrant toddler to time out and make sure he stays there. Now that I was forced to put in the hard work of actual follow-through on discipline, it slowly started to become a beneficial cycle: my children started to see that the new, less noisy mommy was actually going to do what she said she was going to do, and they started to listen a little more when I warned of consequences, lessening the need for yelling in the first place. I also noticed that it seemed like the knowledge that I would not be willing to act out those feelings of frustration and anger made them less likely to come up with their usual intensity in the first place.
But I noticed something else as well, a lesson that was as surprising as it was humbling: patience is a choice. Obviously I’ve always known that I have free will and am responsible for my own actions, but I had subconsciously harbored this vague notion that sometimes things get so frustrating and chaotic and difficult that you’d have to be a superhero not to lose your temper and at least stomp around the house a little bit. And yet, in these weeks of being in a situation where that is simply not an option, with the grace of God I’ve been able to do it. It’s been painful — after all, sometimes it feels soooooo good to let the world know just how much it’s annoying you — but, even when my emotions raged within me, God did give me the resources I needed to respond with calmness almost every time frustrating situations arose.
I think that vague feeling of not being in control holds me back more than I realize. Though I give lip service to knowing that I always have the choice to do the right thing, too often I secretly feel as if I practically have to yell or gossip or make snide comments or commit any number of other sins to which I’m prone because extreme external circumstances forced me into it. This experience has made me start to wonder if maybe one of the biggest things that differentiates the saints from the rest of us is simply the willingness to face head-on the reality that, with God’s help, being a saint really is a matter of choice.
* Due to privacy concerns I should clarify that I’m not saying that Rita has or has not come from an abusive background; this was my thought process before we were even matched with a child, based on the knowledge that sometimes children in the Kidsave program have experienced that.